Monthly archives "October 2018"

A Letter to my Friends

October 29, 2018
Los Angeles, CA

A Letter to my Friends

From Rabbi Corinne Copnick

You are undoubtedly grieving, as I am, over the shocking, hate-fuelled murders at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, as well as the evil sentiments behind them. It is a time for mourning and consolation.

And then it will be a time for serious thought. No matter what euphemisms are employed – white nationalists, alt-right , extremists – there is little doubt now that elements of the Nazi party are alive and well in America.

What can ensure its growth, unfortunately, is a leader inflated with power, someone with access to a bully pulpit who can call out the appropriate “dog whistles” to activate the crazies, to bring them out of the woodwork. When the President of the United States looks directly into the camera and declares, “I am a nationalist,” that is such a dog whistle. It calls “the troops” into action. And I think the President of the United States is smart enough to know what he is doing.

So was the dog whistle intentional? I leave that for you to decide. Was it intentional when Trump, again looking into the camera, asked the memorable question, “Russia, are you listening?”

A respected historian, commenting on television yesterday on the atrocities at the synagogue, explained that the young men seduced by this deceptive rhetoric (such as the Charlottesville torch-bearers declaiming “The Jews will not replace us”) take pride in calling themselves “Trumpenkriegers.” The Germanic name apparently refers to “foot soldiers.” They declare themselves foot soldiers doing the dirty work for Trump.

On the day previous to the synagogue shootings, most Americans were still reeling over the attempted assassination by mailed pipe bombs of respected democratic leaders strong enough to take a stand against forces that denigrate – and try to destroy –the very principles on which this amazing country was founded. Only a day before, and only days before the mid-term elections, the media was consumed with these attempted murders by pipe bomb that had just taken place. Then, the very next day, the topic was actual murder by massacre.

Many of the synagogues and Jewish institutions in Los Angeles, where I live, already have security guards, at considerable cost. But the solution to the problems we are facing today is not to turn America into a fortress.

It is all too easy to proclaim glibly “Never Again,” as our President did at a recent rally.  We must ensure that history does not repeat itself.

I am invited to attend a meeting at the Museum of Tolerance in L.A. The purpose is to memorialize the horrific events that took place in wartime (WWII) Budapest with eyewitness accounts. Let us pray that our own grandchildren will not have to memorialize tragic events still to take place in this beautiful country if we do not prevent them from happening.

Let us pray in holy memory of those who were murdered at the Tree of Life synagogue, with deep compassion for their mourning families, and in solidarity with those who survived and those still in need of recovery. And let us pray for the soul of America. We are all in need of healing.

Spiritual Citizenship: A Reflection on Conversion

Spiritual Citizenship: A Reflection on Conversion

by Rabbi Corinne Copnick

As intermarriage becomes an increasingly common aspect of Jewish life, the Conservative movement has decided to allow their affiliated rabbis to attend intermarriage ceremonies. Not to officiate at these ceremonies, mind you — perhaps that decision will follow — but for now they will at least be able to attend the simcha. In a recent article in the Forward, Ari Feldman gives further details (“Conservative Movement Gives Rabbis Green Light to Attend Intermarriages,” Oct. 22, 2018). It is a long-awaited, welcoming gesture. Until now, conservative rabbis could not even hover in the back row if they wished to remain in the conservative movement.

Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky offers his own thoughtful and lengthy article, although written a decade ago still insightfully relevant, also written from a conservative point of view, on the subject of conversion. “At a given moment,” he writes, “a non-Jew is transformed from ‘outsider’ to ‘one of us.’ What changed that person?” What is the transformative moment?

Kalmanofsky suggests that the prospective convert may have passed through one or more “doors”:

  1. “What doorway did s/he pass through, so that the s/he now counts in the minyan?
  2. Was it a religious doorway?
  3. An ethnic one?
  4. An intellectual affirmation. 
  5. A faith act? 
  6. A mark on the body?
  7. An orientation of the spirit?
  8. Does conversion depend on one’s self-definition?
  9. Or upon decisions by others, like rabbinic courts?
  10. Or perhaps upon the informal willingness of Jews to recognize someone as family?”

What doorways do those of us who are born Jews pass through in the various stages of our lives? Do we find enriching moments — our own transformative doorways — along the way? Do we continue to grow spiritually? Or do we take the fact of Jewish birth — our spiritual citizenship — for granted?

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.

Who is the real mother?

“And the king said, “Divide the living child in two and give half to the one, and half to the other.” (1Kings 3:5)

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

Time and again, we can find solutions, or at least the glimmer of a solution to current problems, in ancient Jewish wisdom. In the biblical story that depicts each of two women claiming the same baby as hers, the women approach King Solomon for a decision. To the horror of the real mother, the king suggests dividing the baby in half, one-half for each of them. Of course, the real mother cannot accept this solution; she realizes that the baby will die in the process of “fairness.” Heartbroken, she would prefer that her baby be given to the false mother; at least he will live. Thus the king is able to identify the real mother.

Of course, this is not an exact analogy of the situation in Israel with both Israelis and Palestinians claiming that the biblical Promised Land is theirs, and that each is the true indigenous people of the land. However, if both sides keep fighting over it, as they have done well before before the modern State of Israel was established in 1948, the baby will indeed die.

Who is the real mother?

For centuries, despite – or perhaps because of –their success in the face of great difficulties, most Jews (living in “exile” from the Promised Land after the conquering Romans destroyed the Second Temple and plowed Jerusalem under with oxen) have traditionally been scapegoats when things go wrong in foreign lands. In the sway of the Spanish Inquisition, Europe cast them out, and Jews scattered to other parts of the world.  Lucky, hard-working Jewish immigrants found a second home in the U.S., the goldene medina. There were always a few Jews living in the then “Palestine” in cities other than Jerusalem. But until Israel was re-established as a modern state, the Jews of the world truly had nowhere to call their own. Nowhere to go in the face of hatred directed at them – and to immigrants in general — by right wing extremists in repetitive cycles. Now at last they have Israel once again, their ancestral home.

In a recent Beit Kulam class, one of my students (Israeli by birth, now an American citizen), offered an enlightening comment. Both Palestinians and Israelis have nowhere else to go. It’s true: The Palestinians also have nowhere to go. Arab governments in their region, for various reasons, don’t want to take them in. Their Arab “brothers” don’t want to be swamped by an aggressive people who tend to political trouble-making and who will quickly become a majority in their land. There are plenty of Palestinians in Jordan now, but the Jordanian king doesn’t want any more. It’s Israel’s problem. So there are two peoples who, when push comes to shove, have nowhere to go. Except Israel.

* * * *

Two people who claim to be indigenous to the land.

The region was ruled for centuries by the Ottoman Empire, who were largely absentee landlords, and sadly, the land deteriorated under Ottoman rule. Later, before all of Palestine (so named by the Romans) became a British protectorate after World War I ended, the territory was called Transjordan, a Jordanian protectorate.

Unfortunately, the Palestinians and the surrounding Arab countries have continued to reject the Jewish state, and insist the land is rightfully theirs. The term “Palestine” originally referred to all the people living there. Then in the 1960s, their leader, Yasser Arafat, narrowed the definition of “Palestinian” to the Arabs living there. These Arab Palestinians considered themselves a people indigenous to Israel, even though the Arab Invasion of the Middle East did not occur until 700 BCE.  And they also claimed Jerusalem should be theirs, even though the Muslim prophet, Mohammed, was never there. Rather, he saw Jerusalem in a DREAM.

While Muslims face Mecca, not Jerusalem, in their prayers, Jews have turned toward Jerusalem, toward the East, in their prayers for two thousand years. They have wandered from land to land for centuries, always reciting in their liturgy, “Next year in Jerusalem.” Always they have vowed “If I forget thee, Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its cunning”( Psalm 137:5). Jerusalem is incised in the collective memory of the Jewish people.

Jerusalem is often represented in the Bible and in Jewish liturgy as a woman. Metaphorically, there’s a continuing love affair between the Israelites and Jerusalem. However, politically today, she is  more like a woman that two men desire. Can she embrace them both? Or do the contenders choose to cut her in half, as King Solomon suggested in his judgment about the baby, even though she may die? Should one party relinquish his claim in order that she will continue to bloom, offering succor to them both? It looks like neither will have her in entirety. If both

parties are truly indigenous, they will have to share her. When two people have no place to go, and there is only one land where they believe they rightfully belong, they need to share. In Hebrew, Jerusalem is plural: Yerushalayim.

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.

FYI: A new Steinsalz Torah in English and Hebrew

by Rabbi Corinne Copnick

From Darkness to Light

For the last couple of years, I have been receiving an online daily Talmud excerpt (in Hebrew Daf Yomi) from the Aleph Society – in English! It is available in Hebrew too. What’s remarkable are the clear and brilliant insights from Rabbi Adin Steinsalts. Now, under the auspices of the Koren Publishers, he has just published an English/Hebrew text of the Torah, accompanied by his own commentary.

For example, how long is the day that Genesis defines? Why does darkness precede light??  Aleph just sent out the following online sample of this great rabbi’s thinking:

“Reading from the very first lines of Genesis, he [Steinsaltz] asks: Where does the day begin?

Intuitively it begins with morning’s first light…The biblical account of Creation, however, indicates that the unit of time known as day begins in the evening, so that darkness precedes light…The day begins with the evening and continues through the morning light, just as the beginning of all existence was hidden in its absence. This idea also conveys a message of hope: From a dark and concealed beginning light shall emerge.”

This Torah text  (Hebrew and English text on opposite pages) with  commentary and letters large enough to read easily will be available or purchase online after Simchat Torah. A complete version of the Tenakh is planned for 2019.

Finding the Answer Differently

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

As teachers soon discover, there is a lot to learn from your students. The very vocal and informed Jewish study group, which I founded and teach twice a month at my home to about twenty people, is now in its fourth year of existence. This past week we began to examine the tension between the original 1948 Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel, (embodying democratic principles similar to those of the U.S.), and the new Nation State Declaration (proclaiming the uniqueness of Israel as the historic homeland of the Jews).

There are 11 clauses in the new Declaration. Following delicious refreshments for Succoth (a happy festival representing the harvest), and after considerable historical preamble, we managed to get through clause 1-A. As I said, my study group – which includes people, of various ages born in the U.S., Canada, Israel, Argentina, Chile, Europe, and elsewhere — depending on who is present or visiting that day – is very vocal. There are lots of opinions and lots of diverse and often fascinating knowledge.

The Ten Days of Awe, representing the holiest days of the Jewish year and preceding Sukkoth, have so recently been with us. We have liturgically chanted the sacred Hebrew refrain long inscribed in the Jewish collective memory, in our prayer books, and hopefully our practice: “Tefillah, teshuvah, tsedakah.”  It is usually translated in English as “Prayer, Repentance, Charity,” long-standing tenets of the Jewish people Sometimes teshuvah is translated as “return, homecoming,“ symbolizing return, not only to God, but also to the Promised Land, Israel. We refer to someone who has returned to the tenets of Judaism as a Ba’al Teshuvah (Master of Repentance).

However, during my class, one of my students, an Israeli, informed me that teshuvah has a different meaning in the secular Israel of today. It is commonly used to mean “answer,” she said. We checked the translation of teshuvah in two dictionaries, one used for Torah, Tenakh and Talmud and the other for modern Hebrew. Sure enough, there are two meanings recorded in both dictionaries: “Return, repentance” is the primary meaning, and “answer” is the secondary usage.

I suppose if you choose to live in the Diaspora, as “exiled” Jews were forced to do for centuries  — that is, until the founding of the modern State of Israel gave us back our long-lost home — it makes sense to be repenting for your sins and praying at Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur for “return” to the Holy Land. But If you live in Israel, you have found the answer: You are already there. (Unless, of course, you choose to leave Israel and make your home in the U.S., as so many Israelis have done. And then you can teach your American teacher what teshuvah means – not in the prayer book, but in Israel.)

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.